The Blakely Field Gun
Prior to the Crimean War, England began experimenting with rifled artillery, both muzzle-loading and breech-loading. In the late 1850's former Royal Artillery Captain Alexander Theophilis Blakely became recognized as a pioneer of the art of banding cannon. As a result of his experiments the Blakely gun came into being.
There were nine different types of Blakely twelve-pounder field guns. They were made of steel or cast iron banded with steel. Blakelys have a unique design which is readily recognizable. Some are sleek with smooth graceful lines while others are not as pleasant to the eye and somewhat resemble the U.S. Parrott rifles.
The Blakely rifled gun had either a 3.5 inch or a 3.6 inch bore diameter. Overall barrel lengths ranged from 58 inches to 84 inches and weighed 700 pounds. The barrels had either 6x6 or 7x7 lands and grooves -- referred to as hook-slant rifling.
They fired a projectile called a “bolt.” With a 1.5 pound powder charge these guns were effective up to 1750 yards. English made ammunition of built-up shells with leaden bases shot very well from these guns; however, some problems arose from the slightly smaller ammunition manufactured by the Confederates.
The Blakely muzzle loading twelve-pound rifled cannon held no real advantage over other rifles other than its extreme lightness of weight. No field carriage was ever manufactured to withstand its severe recoil. Even though they were made of unusual strength and weight, Blakely-mounted carriages constantly suffered from splitting of carriage cheeks and stocks.
We cannot be certain which type of Blakely was used by Pelham but we do know that with a twelve-pounder Blakely and a twelve-pounder Napoleon on 13 December 1862 at Fredericksburg Virginia Major John Pelham fought three divisions of Federal infantry and over a hundred Federal field guns until he was out of ammunition. The Gallant Pelham showed the world that the Confederate Horse Artillery was a deadly force to contend with on the field of battle.
This article first appeared in Volume 1, No. 2 of The Cannoneer.